Don't Want to Suffer the Buffer During the Big Game? Here's What You Need to Do
Don't let a lag cause a delay of the game. Troubleshoot your issues beforehand to avoid missing any action.
Trey PaulSenior Editor
Trey Paul is a CNET senior editor covering broadband. His 20+ years of experience as a writer and editor include time at CNET's sister site, Allconnect, and working with clients like Yahoo!, Google, The New York Times and Choice Hotels. An avid movie fan, Trey's career also includes being a film and TV critic while pursuing a degree in New York.
ExpertiseHome internet and broadband, including plans, providers, internet speeds and connection types. Movies and film studies.Credentials
Master's degree in Cinema Studies from NYU and interviews with Conan O'Brien, Stan Lee and some of his biggest Star Trek childhood idols
If you're a sports fan who's ever tried to livestream a big game in your apartment, then you may already know the pain of realizing your neighbors are a few seconds ahead of you as you hear them react to the big touchdown, home run or jump shot long before it plays out on your screen. Or, just as bad, you get a notification on your phone before seeing the winning kick.
I've been there. It stinks.
The reality is that a certain amount of lag or delay is typical when you're streaming something live while everyone's tuning in to the same broadcast (my CNET colleague Eli Blumenthal does a great job of detailing the causes of the streaming delay). There's not much that you -- or your neighbors -- can do about that collective baseline lag. But if your cheering neighbors upstairs consistently seem to be several seconds ahead of you, that's a sign there might also be issues with your home network slowing things down.
Locating local internet providers
First, let me start by saying there could be longer-term solutions to better your streaming capabilities. For example, my CNET colleagues suggest upgrading your Wi-Fi router and other solutions in our guide to bettering your streaming experience. But let's focus on short-term, quick improvements you can tackle in just a few days so you're ready for the big game.
Don't wait until kickoff. Use these plays before game day
Ideally, you want to embark on this fact-finding mission at least a few days before kickoff. That'll give you enough time to make the necessary adjustments before the all-important event.
Locating local internet providers
Run a speed test
The first order of business is to know if you're getting the internet speed you're paying for. I have a sneaking suspicion that a good number of you out there aren't even sure what speed you're supposed to be getting (and maybe that's an article for another day), so if you're not sure, check your account online and verify what speed your plan promises.
Next, you'll want to run a speed test to find out if you're getting the download and upload speeds you need in the rooms where you plan on tuning in. The best, most thorough approach is to run multiple tests at different times of day to get a fuller picture of your connection's speed. But for the specific task of getting set up for the big game, you want to run your speed test at the same time of day as the scheduled kickoff (which is approximately 3:30 p.m. PT/6:30 p.m. ET).
In our CNET guide to how much internet speed you really need, our recommendation for streaming 4K video (for example, this year's Super Bowl coverage by FOX will be broadcast in 4K, though most over-the-air broadcasts will be in HD) is a minimum of 25Mbps, so that's your starting point. Overall, we also concluded that today's households should be looking for minimum download speeds of at least 100Mbps if speeds like those are available and affordable at your address, especially considering the number of smart devices connected in the home (which we'll touch on just below).
With your speed test results in hand, ensure you're getting the speeds you're supposed to receive. If the numbers are far off, it might make sense to contact your internet service provider and find out if something is awry on that end, or, if possible, you could even try to negotiate a faster plan for less money than you're paying now. If you've been with your ISP for a while, you may be surprised to discover what better, cheaper plans are now available.
Look over your layout
Wi-Fi is incredibly convenient, but it might also bear some blame for your buffering woes. Put simply, the farther away from the modem and router your streaming device is, the lower its wireless speeds will be. If speeds are low enough, you'll start to see buffering as the streaming device struggles to pull the video content over the air fast enough to show it to you in real time.
I mentioned before that I ran my Ookla speed test from my Apple TV. The reason for that is my wife and I decided to connect our Apple TV directly to our router via an Ethernet cable. We wanted our streaming services -- Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV Plus, etc. -- to all have access to the fastest speeds in our house, which wouldn't be possible via Wi-Fi. Likewise, if possible, try a wired Ethernet connection for whatever device you plan to watch the Super Bowl on.
If you cannot connect via Ethernet cable, the next best option is to try watching the game on a device or TV in the same room as your modem and router. The less distance between your router and your Wi-Fi streaming device, the better your chances for uninterrupted performance.
Watch this: Quick tips to help speed up your Wi-Fi at home
Check your household bandwidth usage by using your router
If you're still encountering problems even though your download speeds seem to be up to snuff, you may be having trouble with your router. The first thing to try is the simplest: turning it off and back on again. I know that can be frustrating to hear, especially if you've ever asked for help from anyone in tech services. The standard first response is usually, "Have you unplugged it and plugged it back in?" But the truth is that sometimes it can be that easy -- restarting your router often helps it reset and function better.
Something else worth considering is the number of people and devices using your network. While we mentioned earlier that the ideal download speed for streaming 4K video is 25Mbps, it's important not to forget that each device on your network uses bandwidth.
Take an inventory of the smart devices in your household and, with your partner, roommate, kids or whoever else is at your abode, agree on what can be temporarily removed from your network to allow a less congested network for your game day.
On that note, if you have people in the home who aren't football fans and would like some counterprogramming -- consult with them beforehand and see if you can come up with a list of shows or movies that can be downloaded ahead of time. Maybe download a copy of Encanto for the kids. Or maybe the nonsports fans would enjoy some episodes of The Last of Us or some classic episodes of The Office. Whatever it may be, take the time to get your household on board, and those alternatives downloaded early, and you can avoid strife, arguments and backed-up bandwidth on the day.
Execute a game-day checklist
OK, you've done a practice run several days before the big game. But now it's Go Time. It's Sunday and you're just hours away from kickoff. To ensure all your efforts weren't in vain, it's time to run through the tasks one last time.
Rerun that speed test
The fantastic download speeds you registered several days ago won't do you any good if your game day speeds are lacking. It's always a smart idea to check your download speed before marking off any other items on your list.
Return to your router and double-check the bandwidth status
Remember your inventory of smart devices? Go through the list and start removing them from your network. Even though you previously discussed this with the other household members, take the time to remind them of your game day plan. For example, you don't want the kids going off-script to hop online and play Fortnite instead of sticking to the movie you already downloaded. This will make for less stress in the fourth quarter when the game's on the line.
Now you're set to get the best experience possible for your home's current setup. You've done all you can, now have fun!
One last play: Avoid streaming the game if possible
Before you start yelling at me, I'm not contradicting everything I just mentioned. Nor am I advocating that you give up your sports habit altogether.
Maybe you found a few holes in your system that these tips can't fix (you're due for a new router, or it's time to get out of apartment life, maybe?). Or maybe you don't want to chance a game-day glitch. I'd encourage you to take a look at other ways to view your favorite matchups at home.
That said, other sports, like the NBA, NHL and MLB, to name a few, have a much smaller percentage of games shown on the broadcast networks, so an antenna won't do you much good there. Or, as my colleague David Anders put it in his rundown of internet and TV bundles, if you want your regional sports networks, you'll need to lean on a traditional TV subscription or streaming service with live TV.
Whatever you choose to do, take some time before kickoff to ensure that your game day experience is the best you can make it. Also, be sure to have all your snacks on hand, prep your chili, wings, pizza and subs early, and enjoy the game!